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Obama leads country in celebrating Memorial Day

President Obama took part in a wreath-laying ceremony Monday at Arlington cemetery.

YURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama took part in a wreath-laying ceremony Monday at Arlington cemetery.

WASHINGTON — President Obama led the nation in commemorating Memorial Day, declaring the United States has reached ‘‘a pivotal moment’’ in Afghanistan with the end of war approaching.

Obama, who returned hours earlier from a surprise visit with US troops at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, paid tribute to those lost in battle there and elsewhere over history. He called them ‘‘patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice’’ for their country.

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“Yesterday at Bagram, and here today at Arlington, we pay tribute to the nearly 2,200 American patriots who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan,’’ the president told an audience of several thousand people. “We will honor them, always.’’

Obama made a fleeting reference to the scandal involving reports of poor performance by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is facing allegations of delayed treatments, and even deaths in Arizona.

‘‘As we’ve been reminded in recent days — we must do more to keep faith with our veterans and their families and ensure they get the care and benefits and opportunities that they’ve earned and that they deserve,’’ he said.

‘These Americans have done their duty,’’ Obama said. ‘‘They ask nothing more than that our country does ours.’’

The Arlington remembrance was paralleled in communities across the country.

There was a reunion of some of the last surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen in upstate New York. In Lake George, N.Y., a group held a ceremony honoring four unknown Colonial American soldiers whose remains were discovered in upstate New York 80 years ago and reburied recently in Lake George Battlefield Park, site of a French and Indian War battle.

More than 3,000 volunteers placed flags at the graves of 120,000 veterans at the Florida National Cemetery. And in Mississippi, the annual Vicksburg Memorial Day parade was accompanied by a wreath-laying ceremony at Vicksburg National Cemetery.

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